Making no small plans for Altenheim

Forest Parker wants long-fallow property to become 'Cultural Park'

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By John Rice

Columnist / Staff reporter

Could Forest Park become the site of the "Mini-Ravinia of the Western Suburbs?" This is the vision of Forest Park resident Ralph Di Febo for the Altenheim property. Di Febo, who has his master's degree in urban planning from Loyola University, has worked for the Cook County Assessor's Office for 30 years. He also owns and manages several residential properties in Forest Park. More importantly, he's a resident who wants Forest Park to maintain its green space and use it to enhance the lives of its citizens. 

He first got the idea two and a half years ago, when then-Commissioner Chris Harris asked for input about the property. Di Febo and his small committee have worked tirelessly since then to come up with their Cultural Park concept.

On Nov. 24, Di Febo gave a presentation at the Kiwanis Club of Forest Park meeting at Brian Boru. Harris was on hand, as well as Commissioner Rachell Entler and other interested parties. The presentation began with breathtaking aerial footage of the Altenheim area, filmed from a drone. Then Di Febo launched into his PowerPoint, ably assisted by his wife, Andrea. 

"My dream," he said, "is to build a park that will make Forest Park a destination for relaxation and entertainment."

He distributed a map of the property, which included a bandshell and concert area with an estimated 7,200 seats. Di Febo uses the term "mini-Ravinia" but does not foresee a heavy concert schedule like the Highland Park venue. He would like to host eight big concerts a year to pay for the construction and upkeep of the park. He's already consulted with Jam Productions about the feasibility of the project. 

The park would include a water retention area to prevent flooding. This would necessitate a terraced berm that would be used for seating and to contain sound. The concert lawn would be dotted with speaker poles, like Ravinia. "It would associate Forest Park with the arts," Di Febo said, "and bring direct and indirect revenue to Madison Street."

The park would also feature a permanent structure for a Farmers Market, a playground and lawn and picnic areas. As Di Febo observed, most of Forest Park's greenspace is dedicated to athletics. It would be great to have a place where people could relax, take walks and toss a Frisbee. There would be a sculpture garden, a concession building and a half-mile walking path with exercise equipment. 

As for its viability as a music venue, Altenheim has many advantages over Ravinia. The 8-acre parcel has the same lawn space as Ravinia and an equal number of parking spaces: 1,500. But its location is much more accessible, being served by three rail lines and I-290. Ravinia is a difficult destination to reach from the west suburbs. It's either a long drive with remote parking or an interminable train ride. 

Another benefit of creating Cultural Park is that it would be a confined space, where the village could host other events, like 4th of July fireworks, Summerfest and other events that were cancelled due to inappropriate crowd behavior. "Concerts will generate revenue for the park. Madison Street businesses could market at the park," Di Febo said, "It will give greater exposure to Forest Park. It will be an economic engine because we are no longer the exclusive 'bar town' in the area."

He acknowledged many variables to consider before determining the total cost of the project. Brian Peterson is an architect/urban planner who created the map and addressed costs. 

"We need to bring in the public," Peterson said, "and make it a community plan. We could present drawings to donors, commercial developers and sponsors." He added that the design would be refined, based on drainage, traffic studies and building surveys. 

"It's an overwhelming plan," Peterson acknowledged, "but we could break it down into stages. It doesn't have to be built in one piece." 

Di Febo agreed that the park could be built in stages, as revenue is generated by concerts and smaller events. He and his committee have generated a 72-page report for the village's Planning Commission. 

"I'm at the point where I need some encouragement."

Di Febo received plenty of positive feedback. "I have a million questions," Entler began, "but your enthusiasm is exciting. We want to keep this as greenspace. There could be some overlap with plans for the Roos property and we have to consider whether the town is big enough to support two venues."

After his presentation, Di Febo expressed the desire to partner with the Kiwanis Club of Forest Park to apply for a $50,000 grant from the Oak Park-River Forest Community Foundation. "They are giving the grant for the next big idea to transform communities." Kiwanis agreed to this arrangement. They are hoping the grant could finance the next steps in the planning process outlined by Peterson. 

Regardless of the outcome, the Kiwanians were impressed that Di Febo, along with his committee, had poured so much time and effort into making his adopted hometown a better place to live.

A blog page has been created containing the aerial footage video and details of the project. There is also a survey to solicit feedback. You can also visit the group's Facebook page.

Reader Comments

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Tami Malina from Forest Park  

Posted: December 31st, 2015 11:34 AM

As a musician with a Masters degree, I find the idea of a Cultural Park appealing but have a few concerns. My first concern is how the Altenheim residents feel about the Park. Respecting our elders should be first and foremost.The second is the noise factor from the trains and expressway in terms of practicality. The third is that we have already had to cancel our fireworks show because of the disruption the crowds brought to our neighborhood.Also, how will the Park effect our taxes?

Amber Ladeira from Forest Park  

Posted: December 12th, 2015 7:56 AM

@Thomas Gorman, be sure I am no anonymous warrior hiding behind a keyboard; I do attend public meetings and functions in Forest Park. I'm at least one person who strongly urged that the FPR's publisher tighten up and moderate its papers' comment sections, which are now vastly improved over the anonymous, possibly libelous vitriol spewed out here in past months. @ Jerry Webster, in your rush to upbraid me you made several typos. Your memory may not be top flight these days, as you have videotaped meetings where I have apologized for errors of mine. I still have the notes I took when I was with you in your car to observe the dog park and the women who called the FP Police for no reason, would back you up regarding that even now. Classical Music is very important to me, as well as where I live; anything affecting the Altenheim German Home will ALWAYS attract my attention. If ideas seem unsound, inconsiderate and/or ill-considered, I will comment, period. Forest Park DOES have a newer Comprehensive Plan to consult. I was one of the 33 serving on the steering committee, even have the original 2001 Forest Park Comprehensive Plan. Forest Park taxpayers shelled out $100,000 for this consultation with Images, Inc. True, FP is not bound by such suggestions recommended in that report, but I imagine the village council would want to incorporate much of it, considering the cost.

Thomas Gorman from Oak Park, IL  

Posted: December 9th, 2015 9:12 PM

I was a resident of FP for 13 years until. Hope to move back there. I like the 'Big City Access, Small Town Charm.' I feel that such a project would be a detriment to the surrounding community. I tire of Internet dramas. People will do what they want ultimately, but I think it would not benefit the quality of life here, being better for park space and not a public venue. But I've already been discussing this subject on Facebook and don't feel it is worth it is worth the adversarial posturing that can result from hiding behind a keyboard. What's going to happen is what's going to happen. I just feel it's a bad idea because of the population density is all. I've walked through that area on foot and yes, it should be repurposed, but not as a public venue. Just my two cents. Cheers -- Tom

Pam Fontana  

Posted: December 9th, 2015 5:00 PM

Amber, have you reached out to the Secret DiFebo group? It is far from secret. After you talk with Ralph, let get back to us.

Jerry Webster  

Posted: December 9th, 2015 1:36 PM

Amber, we have talked before, you are right, everyone else is wrong, no point in trying. Do I thing you are wrong, yes I do and like I said this plan is a better use then the village has put forth. I am not saying I agree with all of it, but a better idea than the village.

Bill Dwyer  

Posted: December 9th, 2015 11:01 AM

Didn't realize I'd 'squashed' anything, Amber. You OK?

Amber Ladeira from Forest Park  

Posted: December 9th, 2015 9:18 AM

@Jerry and Bill: I find it very interesting that neither of you attempted to squash my points about acoustics, current availability of the Grove for concerts, speculative sources for funding, etc. ...but truly analytical minds are able to spot these sorts of evasions. RE: the CTA turning trains' noises: what authoritative source has said anything about how baffles and speakers can actually mask the unpleasant sounds emanating from the train yard? Is that dilemma resolved in the 72 page report? Bear in mind any baffle would have to be taller than 20-30 feet, still largely ineffective given the way sound waves propagate. (I'll research this further.) I have already consulted a close friend with an Urban Planning master's from the U of I; he, like me, loves Classical Music, yet he too is skeptical about the project as outlined in this FPR piece. Also: Re: the "quiet" Di Febo group comprised of a small number; I feel that is a possible polite euphemism for "secret"....

Bill Dwyer  

Posted: December 8th, 2015 8:36 PM

And I've ridden my bike through the area multiple times, Amber. So we've both checked out the space. The fact remains that the 8 1/2 acre south Altenheim parcel will be far easier to crowd control than any other site in FoPa.

Jerry Webster  

Posted: December 8th, 2015 12:19 PM

Amber, you are right, what we need is more multi family housing which is one of the few things the village has put forth.

Amber Ladeira from Forest Park  

Posted: December 6th, 2015 1:35 PM

One more thing, shades of Columbo: What would any of you proposers plan to do about the loud, high-pitched, screeching noises emanating from the trains turning around at the west end of the CTA property? You know, the very place where the southeast location of that Altenheim village-owned property abuts the CTA train yard? True mass-transit takers/ Classical Music devotees would never attend concerts there... better to have some smaller classical concerts, say, chamber or trio music ones, at the Grove in front of the Altenheim. I absolutely WON'T want my dreamy, Debussy-inspired reveries punctuated by the trains' turning shrill shrieks...I will point out the inappropriate logistics of this project's proposed site to others. Hot tip for project planners everywhere: ALWAYS scope out any negatives before proceeding; save time, money and disappointed heartache.

Amber Ladeira from Forest Park  

Posted: December 6th, 2015 12:23 PM

Post Script: I've preferred Classical Music to all other forms for 60 of my 70 years. Here's my suggestion/reminder: As early as next Spring and next Summer, you could have Classical concerts there without carrying out all the complicated planning proposed in this FPR article, and also in the "Grove", the front parcel which has gazebos AND washrooms. If rockers can play on stage there, why not Classical folk? --Must the site be fancy? What about funding? I bet many non-Rock musicians, local and others, would love to play at the Grove...the Village of Forest Park charges a pittance for renting the Grove. I asked about costs there long ago.

Amber Ladeira from Forest Park  

Posted: December 6th, 2015 12:04 PM

Er, YES, many of the pianists who have played at the Chicago Cultural Center ARE/have been famous, at least in the rarefied world of Classical Music. Barry Douglas (UK) won the International Tschaikovsky Competition, has played there. I miss Dame Myra Hess Weds. Concert Series Founder Al Booth dearly. Hit by a car while in London, he never fully recovered after that.

Amber Ladeira from Forest Park  

Posted: December 6th, 2015 11:50 AM

Bill, I have lived at the Altenheim for seven years and often gone to the back 8 or 11 acre field behind there, village-owned for ~15 years now. Depending on future fencing, there are now at least FIVE ways to enter/leave that acreage for pedestrians. It is too small to be a mini-Ravinia--has anybody dreaming up uses for this plot BEEN to Ravinia on more than one occasion?? I have, doubt that many here have, based on these suggestions.

Marian Garrigan from Oak Park  

Posted: December 2nd, 2015 9:17 AM

Start with first rate quality entertainment. Look at the Dame Myra Hess concert series at the Cultural Center downtown. They present award winning musicians for free on a weekly basis. These musicians may not be famous but their music is top notch.

Bill Dwyer  

Posted: December 2nd, 2015 8:54 AM

It isn't a 'nicer location' that will stop the anti-social and even criminal behavior that took down the fire works show, Monica. It's the contained nature of the site and the ability of organizers and police to control access and monitor individuals entering the site that will help eliminate behavior problems. In the past, people looking to cause trouble could approach the park district fire works from multiple directions and run away in multiple directions. That won't be the case at Altenheim.

Monica Angelo  

Posted: December 2nd, 2015 8:20 AM

It's a lovely idea and all, but how will a nicer location really stop "inappropriate crowd behavior"? I personally feel we've lost all the fun small town charm when we cancel Fourth of July fireworks and Summerfest due to crowd behavior, instead of finding a way correct the issues.

Jerry Webster  

Posted: December 1st, 2015 6:10 PM

This is better than anything I have heard from village hall. Not to be a killjoy but so fall Farmers Makets have not faired well in Forest Park, the rest of it sounds great.

Linda Fairbanks from Forest Park  

Posted: December 1st, 2015 5:59 PM

What a wonderful idea! Go for it!

Kathleen Marie Garness from Forest Park  

Posted: December 1st, 2015 3:52 PM

This is a fresh and feasible vision for the site. The only thing I would add is to ensure that there are no hydrological impacts to the village in this design. I would also recommend that hardy native plantings be used, both to save money and resources as well as to maximize greenspace ecology effects. We expect that there will be a public comment period should this project move forward. Freeway noise from the expressway near the Roos site would suggest that the Altenheim siting might be preferred over Roos for most performances.

Barbara A Wambach from Forest Park  

Posted: December 1st, 2015 3:37 PM

Fabulous idea. .let's figure out traffic, traffic, traffic!

Patrick O'Brien  

Posted: December 1st, 2015 3:06 PM

This is truly a great idea for Forest Park, what a great visionary ! (I hope I can get in that concession area ;) Exciting plan!

Jorge E. Borda  

Posted: December 1st, 2015 2:52 PM

Wow...what an amazing idea. If this happened in Forest Park it would revolutionize the western suburbs.

Bill Dwyer  

Posted: December 1st, 2015 2:32 PM

I agree with Comm. Entler that Di Fefo's enthusiasm is exciting. What's even more exciting is his detailed vision. Well done so far. Now let's see if this well thought out, good idea gets any genuine support from a power structure historically hostile to any idea that isn't its own.

Katie Hull Redmond  

Posted: December 1st, 2015 1:39 PM

Love this idea!!

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